MOUNTAIN BIKING IN SLOVENIA
Julian Alps - Gorenjska and Soca Valley, South, Central and North-East
Published March 2017
By Rob Houghton
208pp. Paperback Gloss Laminated
Reviewed by Steve Dyster
Roughly the same size as Wales, Slovenia managed to leave the former Yugoslavia with a minimum of fighting - a week and a half - emerging as one of Europe’s greenest countries, where the environment, and enjoying it, have a high profile for locals and tourists. With a mixed climate and varied landscapes, it is becoming a destination of choice for discerning adventure enthusiasts.
Who better to show you round than Rob Houghton and another authoritative Cicerone guidebook?
Rob Houghton is, and it comes over very clearly in his style, an enthusiast for the country and all it has to offer the cyclist. Short of working for the Slovenian Tourism Authority, he could hardly do more to sell the destination and the activity. Many of the images show a stunning, pure landscape or fascinating Slavic architecture; the chapter descriptions promise magical vistas and long downhills to friendly cafes as rewards for each long climb - and there are plenty of those; the maps show small towns dotted in the mountains and vineyards set in the undulating country closer to the sea. Moreover, it all seems utterly justified and without exaggeration. This is a very welcome guide to routes that are still off the beaten track, in places that few of us may have explored.
This guide focuses on mountain biking and exploring. There is down-hilling available in Slovenia, but these routes aim to take you out into the wild landscape to see Slovenia rather than race through it. Divided into four groups, the route sections are sandwiched between an introductory chapter (covering landscape, climate, how to get there, getting around, flora, fauna route chart and so on) and three short appendices (language, accommodation and useful information).
The routes - of which there are thirty-five - have clearly written directions and sound advice. They are aimed at neither complete beginners nor at extreme technicians; as the author points out, they need a good general level of fitness but are only occasionally technical.The route overview gives an indication of how much single-track and what technical sections will be found on each route, alongside the main local features. I smiled at the route in which the author offers the attractions of exploring cheese dairies and four kilometres of single-track descent as the joint major attractions. Suggested time for completion is given alongside distance and other route information, but it is an indication and not necessarily a target. Routes tend to use rough forest roads, tracks and byways as opposed to seeking out single-track and do not use purpose-built trails.
Grading of the routes ranges from medium to very hard, via hard. There is no “easy.” These gradations are not based on technical difficulty, although that may be an element, but it is one that is generally outweighed by physical difficulty and remoteness. And be aware that you are, often, heading into very remote country. Useful advice on what to carry and how to keep safe is given. Don’t be put off by the list of medical centres, that precedes the tourist information offices and the list of bike repair and hire businesses, in he appendix on useful information - it is just a sensible precaution when taking on wild country mountain biking. There is sound advice on what to carry with you - weather can change rapidly in any mountain range and whilst there are bike shops aplenty, mechanical failure will mean along walk without a touch of trailside bodgery.
Whilst many of the routes followed sections of way-marked routes, it seems safe to say that this guide should be stuffed into a jersey pocket and referred to regularly - long uphills will give good opportunities to consult it, as will high level tracks, but keep an eye-out for the next landmark on the downs. Local responsibility for way-marking combined with a variety of signs and symbols may make signage confusing. A good-selling point for the guide - my suggestion, not the authors!
Distances and suggested times are varied - and the latter is really up t the rider, in the long run. however, many of the routes could be completed in half a day.
So, this is a guide to inspire, entertain, and take you though beautiful country. An enjoyable read and, strangely enough, we were just thinking about somewhere different to go weren’t we …. look at that river … swimming, kayaking …. and lots of these routes suggest only a half-day cycling … like the look of it … don’t you?
REVIEW PUBLISHED MARCH 2017